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7 Ways to Learn a Second Language Along With Your Child

Originally posted on Baby & Blog 

Every time I set foot outside my home, I am abruptly hit with the fact that we live in a diverse society.  My neighborhood, like many others in the country, reflects a gradual change in the definition of American.  For years, our children have been told that it is enough to speak, read, and write Standard American English.  However, the truth of the modern world has shown that it is not.

As my husband and I raise our two small children, we have had to face the facts that the way we learned is now obsolete in creating productive members of society.  I can’t even remember how many job ads I looked through after college that read, “Bilingual required” or “strongly preferred.” Add to that the rapid globalization of the world, and our children now need to be flexible enough to work in another country, and at least competent enough to do business internationally.   When I had the pleasure of traveling to other countries, I often found that many children spoke a minimum of 2 languages.  Additionally, I want my children to be as brilliant as they can be, and all the research shows that learning more than one language increases brain function.   All things considered, I have no doubt in my mind that raising bilingual children is a must for our family.

Although it would be great if my husband and I were both fluent in another language, we are not.  But that has not kept us from striving for multilingualism in our family.  We use what we do know, we both took Spanish in high school and have traveled to Spanish speaking countries.  We also learn with our children which makes it even more fun.  Here are some things we do:

  1. Immersion--Surround yourself with people who are speaking the language.  If you are blessed enough to live in an area where there are language classes for children, go to them!  You will meet other people and have the opportunity to speak, and hear your accent and pronunciation critiqued.  Also you can make friends with other parents whose children are bilingual and hang out with them.
  2. Sing songs--Music is an easy and fun way to learn a language.  Find your favorite nursery rhyme and/or lullaby and see if it’s on YouTube in another language, then sing with with your child once a day.  Sing a new song each week, and you can quickly cover the basics and most commonly used words.
  3. Movies/TV--Does your child watch Doc Mc Stuffins, or Umi Zoomi?  Most shows in the United States are distributed all over the world.   Try to find their favorite show in another language, again, many items can be found on YouTube.
  4. Post it notes (this is more for the parent)-- Remember The Color Purple, when Nettie taught Celie how to read?  Do that with a foreign language!  During breakfast time, label the spoon, fork, food, etc. and say each item out aloud with your children.  
  5. Storytime--Check your local libraries and books stores for storytime in another language.  This is a great opportunity to spread multilungual literacy.
  6. Bilingual Books--Look up your favorite children's book online and see if there is a bilingual version, many Dr. Seuss classics have been translated.
  7. Apps--Little Pim has apps to teach a few Spanish and French words, and there are other apps that are geared towards children as well.  Duolingo and Mango Languages can also help parents. 


 Most of the activities I listed above can be done no matter where you live or what language you choose to teach your children.  Luckily we live in an area where there are a lot of resources, we even have dual language schools nearby.  So far my youngest is a year old and just learning to talk, but my oldest is now three and learning to speak some Spanish.  She can sing songs in Spanish, list off a number of words in Spanish, count up to 100 in Spanish and sing the Spanish alphabet.  Where we need to improve is with her conversational skills.    

We choose to teach our children Spanish mainly because it is the language that is most familiar to us.  If there were more resources I would love to pick up an African language like Yoruba, Twi or Swahili. I really wish that there were more child-centered resources to learn African languages. We love Bino and Fino, which CNN called, an “African Dora the Explorer,” but the show is limited to a few greetings and simple counting up to ten.  This is an area that needs improvement, since language is so important to culture and so many languages are dying everyday.  

I hope that one day I can say that I am completely fluent in at least one language other than English. My dream is that my children will speak at least three different languages, how about you?  Are you a parent who only speaks one language and wants to teach your child another?  What language(s) do you want to learn?  What resources have you found to he helpful?  Please share.

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